How to deal with difficult people in the workplace


Posted on Tue 2nd Jan 2018 at 12:23




During the last year I have watched the controversy around Donald Trump’s potential state visit with great interest. Whatever side of that particular fence you sit on, it’s interesting to see how strongly people react to the prospect of dealing with someone they don’t like. How would you feel if your employees signed a petition protesting against the visit of a valuable client?


Hopefully the situation would never be as extreme as that, but in any sort of business there will be times where you have to deal with difficult people. These could be colleagues, temporary employees, suppliers, clients or any of the many other people you interact with during the working day. How you handle these people will be key to the success of your business: do it right and you’re one step closer to your future, mess it up and you’ve just pulled the pin on a grenade without knowing where or when it might explode.

So how exactly do you deal with difficult people? Unfortunately there’s no magic spell (although I’d love to be wrong on that!) but there are techniques that will help you diffuse tricky situations and create better relationships.

- Rise above the situation. Keeping calm gives you a huge advantage over the other person, no matter whether they’re someone you’re negotiating with or the office bully. While you’re maintaining your poker face you’ve got time to plan your next move, and failing to react can in itself be enough provocation for them to make a mistake.

- Separate the issue from the person. Whatever your personal relationship with this person, you still have to deal with the separate issue of what’s brought you together in the first place. That could just be working with each other every day, or it could be an important project with defined milestones and goals. If you can get them to focus on the issues, rather than their emotions, you can drive a better outcome for you both.

- See the situation from the other side. If you haven’t read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, you need to do so now. This provides a masterclass in how to make people see that you understand their perspective, and how to use this to improve conversations and ultimately get what you want.

- Be clear on the consequences. Psychologists state that identifying and asserting consequences can be the most powerful tool in your arsenal when it comes to talking to difficult people. If you communicate this effectively the individual you’re talking with is much more likely to become cooperative, as human brains are pre-programmed to move away from damaging or dangerous situations.

- Know when to run away. Sometimes, if all else fails, the best thing to do is extract yourself from the situation. Do it with grace, and subtlety, but above all do it decisively. 

I hope these help you with your future conversations, although if you've got a meeting with Trump booked you might want to do some further reading! 


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